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After G20 declaration, the tasks ahead

India’s G20 presidency came at a critical juncture — the international order is in flux, geopolitical contestation has sharpened and the global economy is facing strong headwinds. It was, therefore, at once a challenge and an opportunity for India to showcase its leadership in global affairs. We have reason to be satisfied with the outcome.

Thanks to India’s growing clout and cordial relations on both sides of the divide, our diplomacy overcame the Ukraine war hurdle that had bedevilled the preparatory process. It would also have been bad optics for any country to block the summit agenda, heavily tilted in favour of the developing world. While noting the adverse consequences of the conflict for the global economy, endorsing the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states, and adhering to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the inadmissibility of use or threat to use nuclear weapons, the summit eschewed language deploring Russia as the aggressor as in the Bali Declaration. The war, however, goes on with all its adverse consequences. The much-hyped absence of Xi Jinping had no impact on the outcome.

The 83-paragraph New Delhi Declaration has an impressive coverage, inter alia, sustainable and inclusive growth, the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, international trade, climate change and finance, improved access to medical countermeasures for health emergencies, debt vulnerabilities, reforms of Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and Digital Public Infrastructure. Its transformational capacity is, however, dependent on its implementation.

In the backdrop of the UN, and global governance in general, continuing to reflect the power equations at the end of World War II, the G20 is a recognition of the changed realities and has given a place at the international high table to emerging powers. Instituted at the summit level after a global financial and economic crisis, the G20 was designated the premier forum for international economic cooperation. The subjects covered by it have multiplied since then, and it cannot apply itself to the details of each one. In any case, most of these subjects are also under discussion in the UN and other international/multilateral organisations. Therefore, the G20 declarations comprise, in large part, recommendations regarding the broad direction in various fields; references to decisions of specialised bodies dealing with specific subjects and a resolve to implement them, and voluntary action by countries to that end.

Since G20 countries represent around 85 per cent of global GDP and about two-thirds of the global population, their voice carries weight. However, challenges multiply when details of each subject are discussed in the pecialised body, often revealing differences even among G20 countries. Voluntary action by countries frequently falls short of the targets.

A few examples of issues of interest to developing countries will illustrate the challenges of implementation. Noting that only 12 per cent targets of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals are on track, the New Delhi Declaration makes a series of commitments, including mobilisation of adequate and accessible financing for developing countries and fulfilment of their official development assistance (ODA) commitments by developed countries, with action to be taken by the respective countries and organisations. Under green development, there is a commitment to the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement and facilitation of low-cost financing for clean energy transitions, which require an enormous annual investment of over $4 trillion globally.

In this context, it has been reported recently that a $20 billion climate change finance deal announced during the Bali summit to wean Indonesia off coal remains unfinalised nine months later. Noting the need for $5.8 trillion for developing countries in the pre-2030 period, in particular, to fulfil their nationally determined contributions, there is a call for a new ambitious goal of climate finance in 2024, even as the developed world has failed to fulfil the old target of $100 billion per annum.

There is a commitment to address the debt vulnerabilities of developing countries with a leading role for MDBs. The declaration calls for revitalisation of multilateralism; making global governance more representative and enhancing the representation and voice of developing countries in the decision-making in global economic and financial institutions. However, the resistance of entrenched interests to such reforms in the UN and international financial institutions is well known. In sum, though an ambitious declaration has been put together under the Indian presidency, much work lies ahead for G20 countries to ensure its implementation.

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Some other positive aspects of India’s G20 presidency need to be mentioned. First, it was a tremendous organisational effort, with over 200 meetings in 60 cities, and the association of sections of society, economy and the academic community with the process. Second, though the issues of interest to the Global South have all along figured in the G20 agenda, India gave them a much higher profile by organising the Voice of Global South summit with participation from 125 countries. The issues of concern to the Global South figure right through the New Delhi Declaration. The inclusion of the African Union in G20 was a powerful symbol of the importance attached to the Global South, though this could trigger demands for further expansion, which will have to be weighed against the efficacy of consensus building in this grouping. Moreover, this should not be treated as a one-off effort and must be sustained as discussions proceed in relevant forums.

Third, a separately negotiated India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor was unveiled during the summit. It has the potential to be an effective counter, though comparatively limited in scope, to the ambitious BRI. Lastly, the summit focused on Technological Transformation and Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI), thus providing India an opportunity to showcase its considerable accomplishments in these areas.

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The successful holding of the G20 summit has boosted the country’s image. However, let us remember that the summit was not the cause but the consequence of India’s rise and consolidation of power, particularly economic and technological power. Let us, therefore, focus single-mindedly on consolidating our national power further in a harmonious, democratic environment.

The writer is a former diplomat

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